Teen Sexting Prosecutions Expose Harsh Gap In N.C. Law

Editor’s note: This article appears in the February 2017 edition of North Carolina Lawyer and the December edition of the NCBA’s Juvenile Justice & Children’s Rights Section newsletter.

By LaToya B. Powell

Most parents today are warning their teenagers about the dangers of sharing sexually explicit images of themselves with others by cell phone or computer, also known as sexting. The behavior is not only inappropriate, but it also exposes teens to potential embarrassment, humiliation, and further victimization if the photos are disclosed to third parties without their consent. However, the potential harm caused by sexting goes far beyond the social stigma.

A growing number of teens in NC and across the nation are facing criminal charges for sexting. LaToya Powell, Teen “Sexting” is a Problem, But Is it a Crime?, NC Crim. Law Blog (Sept. 8, 2015, 8:29 AM), Because the state does not have a sexting specific law, the conduct is typically prosecuted under laws prohibiting child pornography and obscenity. Id. These offenses carry severe penalties, including a permanent criminal record, sex offender registration, and imprisonment for up to 20 years for juveniles who are charged as adults.[1] Advocates argue that such harsh consequences are grossly disproportionate to the harm caused by consensual teen sexting and many states have created new laws to address the problem.

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